KUALA LUMPUR: All children, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not, have a right to education, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef) said.
Its representative in Malaysia, Marianne Clark- Hattingh, said the government needs to consider the consequences of banning unvaccinated children from school as this would affect their overall wellbeing.
She said if the children were denied access to school, the government has a duty to ensure there were provisions for these children to receive education. Clark-Hattingh was responding to health advocates’ calls to make immunisation compulsory for school admissions.
Among them were Malaysian Islamic Doctors Association (Perdim) president Datuk Dr Ahmad Shukri Ismail and Malaysia I-MEDIC deputy president Prof Dr Azizi Ayob who stated that unvaccinated children should not be allowed to enter school as all children could be at risk from deadly diseases and an epidemic might occur if not handled properly.
“No child should be blamed for not being vaccinated. Preventing an unvaccinated child from going to school is a violation of their right to access education,” said Clark-Hattingh.
She said not vaccinating a child puts others at risk and it was right for the Malaysian government to give importance to the vaccination of children.
However, she said mandatory laws were not the best way to do it. She said based on Unicef’s experience, there was little evidence to show that mandatory laws improve vaccination coverage.
“There are better, more effective approaches to foster and sustain the demand for immunisation. We need to understand why parents are reluctant to vaccinate and guide them with the right information and targeted campaigns.
“There is also a need to constantly engage healthcare providers for improved communication with clients,” she said.
Clark-Hattingh said the child’s best interest was served when parents and caregivers act to protect them from infectious diseases with vaccination based on informed decision or prompted by non-coercive measures and interventions.
She urged health workers both at public and private health facilities to continue their efforts to ensure that every child in every community was reached with lifesaving vaccines.
“Malaysia, as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is equally mandated to give children the best healthcare and education possible,” she said.
She added that the appearance of life threatening preventable communicable diseases such as measles and diphtheria in Malaysia as well as the escalating number of parents reluctant to vaccinate their children was worrying.